Source: The Hitavada      Date: 24 Jul 2018 10:36:31


The recent incidence of mass suicide by 11 members of a family at Burari, New Delhi has sent shockwaves across the country. People have started associating it with numerous speculations. But the most convincing theory is probably that of a psychiatric illness called ‘Shared Psychotic Disorder’, which is suggested by the diary of one of the family members, who used to hallucinate about speaking to his dead father.

In Shared Psychotic Disorder, a person who himself suffers from a psychotic illness (characterised by hallucinations and delusions) is able to convince his kin that his delusions are true. And this is how one of the family members happened to convince the others that they would attain salvation by hanging themselves. They were all influenced to such an extent that they actually believed that they won’t die, and would be saved by some ‘superpower’, which obviously was not going to happen. As a result, all of them lost their lives.

Now, this is not the first incidence of death due to a psychiatric illness, in India. In a huge country like ours, such deaths are on the rise for a long time now. This mainly has to be attributed to the lack of awareness among the general population pertaining to mental health, because of which mental illnesses are not diagnosed at the right time, which might prove to be fatal, as happened in the Burari case.

According to a nationwide survey conducted by National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), at least 13.7% of the Indian population is suffering from some form of mental illness. The study also concluded that of these people, 10.6% require immediate intervention. But due to the stigma associated with mental illnesses, nearly 80% of these had not sought medical help, despite being ill for more than 12 months. These figures are both shocking and saddening.

The mentality of the people in the society is to be blamed for this sorry state of affairs.
As per another study conducted by The Live Love Laugh Foundation among thousands of residents of 5 cities across India, more than 40% of the respondents labelled those suffering from mental illnesses with derogatory terms such as ‘Retard’, ‘Mad’, ‘Stupid’ etc.

Now, with the prevalence of such a mentality, how can someone be open about his feelings? Leave alone a psychiatrist, how will a mentally ill person approach his own family members? How will he/she feel comfortable in such a ‘highly learned’ society?

As you ponder over these eye-opening questions, I can tell you one thing as a medical student. Mental illnesses are just like any other illnesses. Even the definition of ‘Health’ according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) gives equal weightage to physical and mental well being. Just like the other illnesses, mental disorders have their own scientifically proven mechanisms to develop in a person.

As we all know, early diagnosis of a cancer improves the chances of successful treatment in the patient, the same holds true for mental illnesses as well. They too are curable if diagnosed at an early stage and treated under expert guidance. Just like you won’t treat Malaria by telling the patient “Tension mat lo. Khud hi theek ho jaaega”, you similarly cannot treat severe depression without appropriate medication or other psychotherapeutic techniques.

It is high time that we consider psychiatric illnesses seriously and more importantly, don’t attach any stigma to it. Psychiatric patients are NOT ‘mad people’. They are just suffering from an illness, which can be cured with appropriate medications. In a time when we proudly sing ‘Mera desh badal raha hai, aage badh raha hai’, let us not stick to old beliefs and notions. Rather we should have a more reasonable thinking. Let us show some empathy towards those who are suffering from mental illnesses. Because you never know. Tomorrow it could be your near and dear one suffering with such an illness and you certainly would not want him/her to be labelled as a ‘mad person’.

Let us all consider psychiatric illnesses as any other illness, and do our bit for a ‘Healthier India’!















Harkishan Mamtani
Government Medical College.